Saving 'taklobo'-A A +A
A Matter of Taste
Saturday, October 12, 2013
MAYOR Grace Jardin of Jasaan town in Misamis Oriental is thinking of clams these days. As in giant clams.
“They are the only giant clams in Macajalar Bay and we need to take care of them,” she declared.
The giant clams are part of the reseeding effort done at Agutayan atoll in Jasaan.
The University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute (UP-MSI) in Bolinao, Pangasinan provided 574 seedlings of its two giant clam species for the first reseeding activity in the reefs of Agutayan atoll in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental on December 8, 2001. It was the first reseeding activity in Northern Mindanao.
Longest reseeding effort
“This is probably the longest reseeding effort in the country,” said Dr. Hilly Ann Roa-Quiaoit, currently the Vice President for Research and Social Outreach at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan but formerly a marine biologist with the MSI involved in the reseeding efforts.
Giant clams have been considered endangered under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) as well as under Section 97 of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 (RA8330).
Giant clams, called “taklobo” locally, are the largest living bivalves (family Tridacnidae), whose size can reach a meter in some species and whose weight can easily surpass 500 kg.
Dr. Roa-Quiaoit explained that the giant clam has become endangered because of over-harvesting. She pointed out three factors for such over-harvesting:
For food – Its meat is a delicacy and its adductor muscle is considered by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac, and so it commands a high price in the black market. For shellcraft – The shells of the giant clams are used extensively as souvenirs or house decor. For aquarian trade – Some species of giant clams are very colorful and fetch a high price in the live aquarium trade.
According to Dr. Roa-Quiaoit, seven of the nine species of giant clams are found in Philippine waters but they are all presently endangered. In fact, the larger species are locally extinct.
“Apparently, the giant clams used to thrive here in Macajalar Bay,” Dr. Roa-Quiaoit said. “We have seen their fossils all over Laguindingan, for instance. But there does not seem to be live giant clams anymore.”
With that in mind, the Agutayan giant clam reseeding project was embarked upon by the local government of Jasaan and the former Marine Ecosystem Council Cagayan de Oro Chapter, which became the Society of Environmental Advocates for Mindanao, Inc. The project now falls under the ambit of the Mckeough Marine Center (MMC) of Xavier University.
“The giant clams encompass a large biomass of the reef and so they become the starting point in ecosystem appreciation,” Dr. Roa-Quiaoit pointed out. “They are indicators of the state of the marine ecosystem.”
Lessons in reseeding
After 12 years, the reseeding project has yielded some lessons.
“Clam mariculture over the years has been successful but the giant clam population in the wild still has not returned,” lamented Dr. Roa-Quiaoit.
In fact, the number of giant clams at Agutayan is now less than 200.
This has prompted Mayor Grace Jardin to say, “We need to police our waters forcibly.”
Dr. Roa-Quiaoit said, “Maybe it’s time to form breeding circles throughout Macajalar Bay—in Laguindingan, El Salvador, Opol, Balingasag, and Sugbongcogon, but first and foremost in the mainland shores of Jasaan.”
She said that perhaps the flow of the currents at Agutayan is not conducive to the breeding cycles of the giant clams.
“In the Camiguin experiment, the giant clams now have baby clams, but this has not happened at Agutayan,” Dr. Roa-Quiaoit reported.
Dr. Roa-Quiaoit is an international expert in giant clams. While working on a giant clam hatchery project in Jordan for the Germany-based Center for Tropical Marine Ecology, she discovered the 10th species of giant clams in the world.
“We were at the Red Sea and I observed that the giant clam fossils in the area did not correspond to the known species,” she recalled. Her colleagues told her she was wrong, but when she consulted her mentor in Australia and did her measurements, she knew she was on to something. She completed her scientific sleuthing by doing DNA sampling.
New known species
And that became her doctoral dissertation—the new known species of giant clams now called the Tridacnidae Costata Roa-Quiaoit et. al.
“My husband, Peter, and our son Josh, who was three years old at the time, accompanied me in Jordan. It was a thrilling time of new landscapes and new discoveries,” Dr. Roa-Quiaoit confided. “I hope to find that kind of excitement among other stakeholders in our Agutayan experiment. After all, this is closer to home.”
Mayor Jardin is excited, too. “The giant clams help us promote the beauty of Agutayan while instilling awareness on environment issues. We also have to think of the economics of it all, among other concerns.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on October 13, 2013.